US ‘won’t seek UN approval’ for military strike on Syria
Cameron tells G20 summit of new scientific evidence showing chemical weapons use in Syria
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (left) welcomes US President Barack Obama before the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St Petersburg, today. Photograph: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has warned against an attack on Syria. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/Reuters
Britain’s prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St Petersburg. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
Heads of state and international organizations attend the first working meeting of the G20 summit. Photograph: Ramil Sitdikov/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared this evening that the US has has given up trying to work with the UN Security Council on Syria, accusing Russia of holding the council hostage and allowing Moscow’s allies in Syria to deploy poison gas against innocent children.
Ms Power’s remarks left no doubt that Washington would not seek UN approval for a military strike on Syria in response to an August 21st chemical attack near Damascus.
Ms Power said a draft resolution Britain submitted to the five permanent council members last week calling for a response to that attack was effectively dead. “I was present in the meeting where the UK laid down the resolution, and everything in that meeting, in word and in body language, suggests that that resolution has no prospect of being adopted, by Russia in particular,” Ms Power told reporters.
Her statement came as the first day of the G20 summit drew to a close in St Petersburg. Britain, France and the US tried today to pile pressure on an increasingly emboldened Vladimir Putin by producing new evidence that lethal sarin nerve gas was used in the notorious chemical attack in Syria in August.
The predominantly British claims were based on tests of clothing and soil samples that David Cameron said had been taken from Syria and tested positive for sarin by scientists at the UK’s testing centre in Porton Down in southern England.
Cameron said that “we were confident and remain confident Assad was responsible” for the attack on Ghouta, east Damascus, and added: “We have just been looking at some samples taken from Damascus in the Porton Down laboratory in Britain which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb.”
Mr Cameron’s fresh evidence was aggressively dismissed by Russia in an acrimonious end to the first day of the G20 summit in St Petersburg, dominated by the crisis in the Middle East.
A senior spokesman for Mr Putin was reported to have told Russian journalists in a briefing that Britain was “a small island no one listens to”, apart from some oligarchs who had bought Chelsea football club.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, insisted evidence about the use of chemical weapons in Syria should be presented by the UN security council.
Mr Cameron was forced to dismiss the criticism - initially believed to have been made by the Russian president’s press attache, Dimitri Peskov - saying Britain was the leading the argument for a strong response to the use of chemical weapons.
With reports suggesting that United Nations inspectors will take another three weeks before their report can be delivered, the US has the choice of waiting that length of time or going ahead on its own evidence before the UN report is ready.
Mr Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said in a statement directed at the summit: “While respecting the recent calls for action, we underscore at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process.”
Chinese vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao said: “Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price - it will cause a hike in the oil price.”
The BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - echoed that remark, and the Pope, who leads the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, urged the G20 leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution”.
Mr Obama is unlikely to be deterred. He said before talks with Japan’s prime minister on the sidelines of the summit that the use of chemical arms in Syria was “not only a tragedy but also a violation of international law that must be addressed.”
Aides said he would set out his views at the leaders’ dinner and hoped to build support for military action, although aides acknowledge a consensus might be hard to find.
“We would not anticipate every member of the G20 agreeing about the way forward in Syria, particularly given the Russian position over many, many months now in terms of resisting efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
Enrico Letta, the prime minister of Italy, said the summit was “the last chance to find political solutions” to the Syrian crisis. Others who urged the US to delay included the Chinese and many leaders in the emerging world.
Mr Obama began personally calling wavering US legislators during his trip to Russia as his pursuit of congressional authorisation for military action against Syria threatened to drag on well into next week.
The majority of Congress remains undecided, according to various unofficial “whip counts“ collated in Washington, and the president has cancelled a trip to California planned for next week “to work on the Syrian resolution before Congress,” according to a White House official.
Mr Obama is also expected to make a direct to appeal to the American people in a televised address from the Oval office when he returns from the G20 summit.
A running tally maintained by CNN estimated 24 senators were preparing to vote yes, against 17 leaning no, with the remaining 59 undecided. In the House, the position appears reversed, with 97 leaning against and only 28 so far declared in favour.
The administration was also put in the back foot today by a New York Times report detailing alleged atrocities by Syrian rebel fighters. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the apparent attack and said the US was seeking more information from rebel commanders.
In the economic discussions which were overshadowed by the Syrian crisis there was a disagreement between representatives of the developed emerging countries over the effects on the global economy on the prospect of a diminution of a US monetary stimulus as the flood of dollars into the world economy is reduced.
“Our main task is returning the global economy towards steady and balanced growth. This task has unfortunately not been resolved,” Mr Putin told leaders. “Therefore systemic risks, the conditions for an acute crisis relapse, persist.”
Additional reporting: Agencies